Wednesday, January 28, 2009
FAR AFTER GOLD is a historical romance set in the North West Highlands in the tenth century. I don't doubt that anyone who has been to Ullapool will recognise the setting of Skuli Grey Cloak's steading, and may even recognise the cover pictire as Sandwood Bay on a misty day. Over the thirty or so years I've spent camping, caravanning, BnB-ing and hotel-ing in the area, I've often wondered about the history of the place in those far off days when Christian and Viking learned to live together as settled neighbours. Coupled with the glorious landscape, the tug was irrisistable and this story is the result of letting my imagination run wild.
Kidnapped from her Christian home in the Hebrides, Emer sees the handsome pagan Viking who purchases heras an enemy to be defeated. Escape is never far from her mind. Her only problem is where to run to, and how to stop herself falling in love with him.
Nicola Cornick reviewed it:
"In Far After Gold, Jen Black brings history to vivid and passionate life. The book gripped me from the very first page and drew me in. The writing is lovely, fluent, powerful and evocative. The exploration of the clash between the Viking and early Christian cultures adds layers to the conflict. But it is the characters and their love story that compels the reader’s attention.
Emer is a wonderful heroine, sympathetic and engaging. Even when she is in desperate straits she displays dignity, strength and generosity of spirit. She draws others to her through her kindness and warmth. Flane is a hero to match her, courageous and strong. The chemistry between them is scorching hot and the love story both seductive and tender. Watching these two characters change and grow throughout the book is a delight. Well-drawn secondary characters also add depth and charm to a compelling love story. This book lived on in my imagination long after I had finished it."
The book is published on January 30th
And here's an excerpt:
Half a day later the coastline emerged slowly out of the sea. The ship turned, ran straight into the heart of Alba, and mountains rose up on every side. Peeping over the edge of her blanket, Emer saw high hills fringed with trees, but not a single dwelling. The inlet narrowed and the bustle of the crew announced that landfall was imminent. She rose to her knees and peered over the high gunwale. The water was browner than the indigo of the open sea, and weed decorating the rocks at the water’s edge indicated that the loch was tidal a long way inland.
Steep mountainsides rose to one side, with no breaks for landfall. On the other, mountains backed bright meadows that ran down to the shore, and a smooth shallow headland jutted out, pimpled with a cluster of buildings and bright colours where wives and children waited to welcome their men home from the sea. The sail rattled down, and oars took the ship in an arc towards the jetty. Fear of the unknown rose and lodged like a lump of dry bread in Emer’s throat. She sank back in her corner, hauled the blanket over her head and ignored the screams of excited children and women. The glad cries of homecoming she could not share, that made her want to weep for what she had lost.
Gangplanks rumbled out and men trundled barrels ashore. When everything grew quiet, she squinted out over the folds of the blanket. The older lord and many of the crew had gone. Flane stood by the mast. She hoped he would forget about her. She closed her eyes and prayed to St Patrick as hard as she had ever prayed in her life. Emer never heard the soft footsteps, and when a hand yanked the blanket away, she jerked back so fast she banged her head against the stern post. “Ow.”
“Get up.” He was laughing, but his rich voice was firm and authoritative. She ignored him. When his foot drew back, she guessed his intention and scrambled to her feet rather than be kicked. He was so much taller now that she was close to him. She refused to look up. Her eyes were level with the smooth brown skin of his chest. The laces of the leather jerkin were open and he wore no tunic or undershirt. Muscles and tendons moved and flickered beneath the brown skin only a finger’s width from her nose. The scent of him curled into her nostrils.
“Come with me.”
Emer stood rooted to the deck. Flane reached the gangplank, turned and beckoned. Emer scowled and did not move. Flane clicked his fingers. Astounded, Emer lifted her chin, turned her head and stared pointedly out to sea. From the corner of her eye she saw one sailor nudge another and both stopped what they were doing to watch what would happen next. Memories of the overseer and his cane flashed through her mind, and she decided moving might be her wisest choice even though he treated her like his favourite hound. Pride stiffened her spine as she came to a halt before him.
“My name is Flane.” He tapped his chest and repeated the words, as if she were stupid, and then sighed. “Trust me to pick a girl who doesn’t understand the language.” He drew his dagger, and the fierce blade flashed silver in the sunlight. Emer’s heart leapt into her throat. Would he kill her because she could not speak his language? What other reason could he have? She met his blue glance for an instant even as she took a swift step back, ready to run, heedlessly, in any direction.
He caught her wrist and dragged her in close. Her heart thudded wildly at the sudden contact of chest, hip and thigh. Panic stricken, mesmerised by his steady blue gaze, she stood there in the thin sunlight with the sound of water lapping against the ship and the smell of him in her nostrils. She drew a swift, choked breath of air. Her last moment in the world had arrived. She shut her eyes, waiting the bite of cold steel at her throat.
Dear Lord, accept my soul this day…He hooked one finger under her leather slave collar. Surprised, she opened her eyes and flinched at the sight of the steel blade flashing wickedly in the sunlight.
“Steady, steady,” he murmured, as if to a nervous animal. “I thought you’d rather be free of this.” He gave a couple of gentle tugs on the leather collar at her neck, and before she grasped his intention, the blade sliced through the hated thing. She never even felt the coldness of the blade. He dangled the strip of leather with its attendant piece of rope in front of her. “Do you want to keep it?”
Furious at being frightened and then gentled like a nervous mare, Emer didn’t hesitate. She seized the hated collar and hurled it far out over the loch. He laughed. “Good for you. Now, come with me.” A mixture of shame and indignation burned through her as she followed Flane over the heavy timbers that made up the jetty. Head down, dodging coils of rope, empty sacks and closed kegs, Emer decided she would take the removal of her slave collar as the first of many positive things that were about to happen. She did not realise Flane had stopped walking until she almost collided with the pale leather of his jerkin.
“You understand me,” he stated.
She backed off a pace or two, and looked up warily. “Yes.”
The Norsemen first settled the islands two hundred years ago and many islanders now spoke Norse with their neighbours. Dutifully sewing tunics and chemises under her mother’s watchful eye, she had learned the language by listening as her father taught it to her brother. She had picked it up faster than Donald, and teased him about it. Her chin wobbled at the warmth of the memory and she pressed her lips together to keep the tears at bay.
“That’s good. We’ll deal well together.” Emer doubted it, but did not dispute his statement. “Your life will not be hard here.” A tingle of hope ran through her, and she hoped he meant it. But …he was a Viking, and he…owned her. It was her duty to escape if she could.
She ventured a question in the new language. “Where is this place?”
“It’s called Skuli’s Steading. It’s about sixty miles from the Alban king’s settlement at Inverness.”
“I do not know Inverness.”
“Sixty miles as the crow might fly would take you to the eastern seaboard and Inverness, but Skuli’s Steading is my home.”
If she concentrated hard, she understood him. “Home!” Emer let out a snatch of bitter laughter. “How far is Skuli’s Steading from my home? From an island called Pabaigh?”
“Pabaigh?” He shook his head, frowning. “Is it close to Skye?”
Emer shrugged. “I don’t know. My aunt is there.”
“Skye lies to the south of here. Maybe someone there will know of your island.”
He never knew the impact of his words. As realisation dawned, tears pricked her eyes and she stared at the sky through a sudden blur. Thank you, Lord. She’d guessed they were sailing north, away from Africa, but fear still gripped her that the ship headed to some distant part of Gotland or Russland. She looked round. This was the destination. Skye was nearby. There would surely be a chance to escape now. Elation streamed through her at the thought she might see home again.
Flane took hold of her arm, and she was very much aware of the warmth of his hand on her skin. His pale brows angled towards his nose, and he drew breath to speak and then changed his mind. They stared at each other in silence. Stubble pricked through the sunburned skin of his jaw, and sunlight glanced off a single gold earring. The breeze blew a wisp of straw-gold hair across his mouth and in a casual, habitual gesture he hooked the hair behind his ear, but what held her still was the intensity of his eyes.
In a small voice, Emer asked a question. “Why me?” The smile that grew slowly across his face was confident, knowing. He let go of her arm, lifted his hand to her face, let it hover in the air for some moments before he touched her cheek. The back of his bent fingers glided gently down to her jaw. “You are lovely.”
“You paid silver for me because you like how I look?”
“What else could it be? I saw you huddled against the stockade in the slave market and…I don’t know. I felt that…I wanted to do this.” His palm cupped the back of her head, pulled her forward and his mouth descended on hers. His warm tongue probed her mouth. With a grunt of shock, Emer recoiled and struggled against his broad chest.
He let go of her. “Don’t tell me you’re shy.” His lazy grin mocked her.
“I do not allow men to handle me.”
“We’ll soon see about that. Why do you think I bought you?” One silver eyebrow tilted up. “How did you get into the slave market?”
Emer took another step away from him, poised to run if he should try and grab her again. “Vikings seized me, dragged me to their ship – I still have the bruises, look – and sold me. Satisfied?”
“Don’t take that tone with me, girl. I didn’t snatch you. I paid out good silver for you and brought you here.” His arm indicated the Steading and the hillsides. “Is this not better than the slave market? You ought to be grateful, so get rid of that pig-headed look. You could have done a lot worse.”
“Pig-headed! Worse? My father is chieftain of Pabaigh!”
He leaned close, blue eyes sparkling. “I have only two words for you.” He spoke slowly and with emphasis. “Moorish Africa.”
Emer recoiled, and then inhaled slowly. She should not let him see he frightened her, even if her heart beat like a mad thing and her knees trembled beneath her gown.
“You may not like where you are, but you would like Africa a lot less. We passed a Moorish galley just as we left the Liffey. You escaped Africa by that much.” He indicated a tiny space between his thumb and forefinger. “I can always sell you on to the Moors if you don’t please me.”
Emer shuddered. No one ever got home from Africa. It was even worse than Russland.
“Well? Will you please me?” She met the laughing challenge of his blue eyes, and something opened and warmed within her. It was an odd sensation, totally unexpected; as if she stood before a huge glowing fire and the heat reached out and enveloped her. She could not remember any man having such an effect on her. Perhaps…he was certainly more handsome…better looking than…anyone on Pabaigh.
She caught at her thoughts. He should be her husband, not her master. “My father would repay the silver, if you returned me to him.”
He shook his head, grasped her arm and walked her towards a wooden hut built out over the loch. “Soon everyone will know you belong to me.”
The phrase “belong to me” echoed in her ears as Flane pulled her into a warm, dim interior of the hut, full of dark corners, firelight and steam. Shadowy women in various states of undress clustered around a central hearth. No one seemed unduly disturbed at the interruption, though some discreetly covered themselves.
Flane addressed one of the women. “I brought a girl back from Dublin. She needs to get rid of the lice. I don’t want to be scratching like a dog fox tomorrow.” Emer glared at him. He caught her look, and must have interpreted it correctly, for he reached out and held up a strand of her snarled, tangled hair. “It was a slave market. You couldn’t have avoided it.”
Thank you, Jen, the book looks great. If you'd like to read more about Jen's book, visit her blog.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Margaret Dashwood, a heroine in a new book, Willoughby Returns, a Sense and Sensibility Sequel by Jane Odiwe
In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Margaret Dashwood, the youngest sister has a minor role. We learn in chapter one that she was a good-humoured, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense; she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
At thirteen Margaret is too young to be 'out' and we only see glimpses of her as she observes her sisters' behaviour. She does not miss a trick; telling Elinor that she thinks Marianne is engaged because she has witnessed Mr Willoughby stealing a lock of her hair. I love the following extract, which shows how keenly Jane Austen observed the foibles of the young.
Margaret's sagacity was not always displayed in a way so satisfactory to her sister. When Mrs. Jennings attacked her one evening at the Park, to give the name of the young man who was Elinor's particular favourite, which had been long a matter of great curiosity to her, Margaret answered by looking at her sister, and saying, "I must not tell, may I, Elinor?"
This of course made everybody laugh; and Elinor tried to laugh too. But the effort was painful. She was convinced that Margaret had fixed on a person, whose name she could not bear with composure to become a standing joke with Mrs. Jennings. Marianne felt for her most sincerely; but she did more harm than good to the cause, by turning very red, and saying in an angry manner to Margaret, -
"Remember that whatever your conjectures may be, you have no right to repeat them."
"I never had any conjectures about it," replied Margaret; "it was you who told me of it yourself."
This increased the mirth of the company, and Margaret was eagerly pressed to say something more.
"Oh! pray, Miss Margaret, let us know all about it," said Mrs. Jennings. "What is the gentleman's name?"
"I must not tell, ma'am. But I know very well what it is; and I know where he is too."
"Yes, yes, we can guess where he is; at his own house at Norland to be sure. He is the curate of the parish I dare say."
"No, that he is not. He is of no profession at all."
"Margaret," said Marianne, with great warmth, "you know that all this is an invention of your own, and that there is no such person in existence."
"Well, then, he is lately dead, Marianne, for I am sure there was such a man once, and his name begins with an F."
My new book, Willoughby's Return, starts three years after S&S finishes and at eighteen going on nineteen, I thought it was time to give Margaret a heroine's role. Her story is intertwined with that of Marianne's who encourages Margaret to follow her heart.
At this point in the book she is staying at Delaford Park with her sister. It is the day after a ball when she has met and danced with a young man, a nephew of Colonel Brandon.
Margaret escaped as soon as she could into the gardens outside. She made her way to the yew arbour with a favourite book, although she suspected before she had even reached the seat that she would not find time for much reading. Margaret sought solitude in order to daydream and spend her time in reverie without being disturbed from her pursuit or having to answer impertinent questions. From her vantage point on rising ground behind the house, she could see the road below, but there was nothing much to interest her there; not even a carriage rumbling by to take her notice. Opening her book she began to read, but the printed words soon swam before her eyes in a muddle. All she could see was an image of Henry in her head. Henry’s handsome face was before her, smiling with that expression, half tender, half mocking.
“I wish Mrs Jennings were right for once,” she thought, “how lovely it would be if Henry were to call.”
She twisted sideways, pulling her feet up onto the bench and wrapped her cloak around her legs against the cold seeping up from the ground. Just as she was wishing that Henry were there by her side her attention was caught by the sight of a horse being led by its master along the roadside. The man was talking to the horse, which appeared to be in some pain as it limped along. Margaret watched with her heart in her mouth as it became apparent that the young gentleman was none other than the very person she most wished to see.
From her seat, concealed amongst the yew boughs, she was quite hidden from the road. She observed him walk the length of the thoroughfare until he came opposite her viewpoint. Margaret could sit no longer and watch. Jumping up, she ran out from her hiding place and down the slope of the lawn, past the sun-dial, through the yew avenue and along the narrow path, to an ivy covered door set within the garden wall. Trying to turn the rusty key in the lock gave her difficulty and she feared she would not be able to accomplish this task before he had long passed by. At last the key turned and the door opened with a creak. She glimpsed his retreating figure and called out his name.
“Mr Lawrence, Mr Lawrence, good morning!” Margaret saw him stop and look around in surprise.
“Why, good morning to you, Miss Dashwood,” he answered with a bow. “What a pleasant surprise. However, I am dashed if I know how you discovered my whereabouts. If I were of a suspicious nature I might think you had been spying on me.”
Margaret chose to ignore this impudence. “What has happened to your horse?”
“I am not certain except to say he appears to be lame, a stone in his hoof, I daresay. I must get him to the farrier to have him looked at.”
“Pray tell, Mr Lawrence, where were you headed?” asked Margaret knowing that his destination must be Delaford House. “You appear to be rather far from home.”
“I came to call on you, Miss Dashwood, as you are well aware,” he answered and gazed so directly into her eyes that she could not look at him.
She looked back toward the house for somewhere to fix her eyes. “You could have the groomsman look at him, but I do not think you will be able to lead your horse through this doorway. Besides, this part of the garden has too many narrow pathways, there is not enough room for a man and his horse.”
“No, but there is a post just along here where I might tie him up, so he can rest. And as you say, I could alert Jackson. I can fetch my horse in a little while, after he has been seen. In the meantime you could show me round the garden.”
“Will you not come up to the house and say how d’ye do?” asked Margaret as she watched him tie up his horse. She felt rather uneasy about having stopped him now. If Marianne or more particularly, Elinor had found out that she had behaved in such a manner, they would be shocked. Not only shocked but horrified that she had been so outspoken. And she was not sure that being alone with him in the garden would be approved of as pleasing conduct.
“I do not think that will be necessary,” he smirked. “After all, I only came to see you and no one need be any the wiser. Will you not show me round? I remember an old yew arbour at the top of the lawn where I played hide and seek as a small boy with Uncle William. Is it still there?” He smiled at her so artlessly that Margaret was instantly charmed.
“Yes, I was sitting there when I saw you. There is a capital view of the road and it is the best place in the world to hide.”
Margaret knew it was wrong but as much as she told herself that she should insist on their going up to the house, her feet immediately disobeyed her. They left their dewy prints on the rain soaked grass and climbed the ascent to the ancient arbour, Margaret conscious that he followed closely behind with loping strides. The yew arbour loomed before them, like a giant plum pudding, its entrance almost concealed by foliage. Margaret stopped just outside.
Henry swept past and was swallowed up out of sight by the giant arms of the dark yews. Margaret looked about her. What should she do? To follow him would be most inappropriate. She heard Henry call her name.
“Miss Dashwood, look here,” he called.
Willoughby's Return, a Sense and Sensibility Sequel to be published by Sourcebooks Fall 2009
Willoughby cutting Marianne's hair by Brock
Photo of Efford House, location for Sense and Sensibility, 1995
Drawing of yew arbour and sundial by Ellen Hill
Friday, January 23, 2009
The Spanish Peninsular: 1812.
Three men lay slumped on the earth, which had been baked hard by the fierce Spanish sun. Harry Pendleton had his back against a rock. Of the three he was in the best shape. Max Coleridge was lying with his eyes closed, his blood-soaked shirt stuck to his chest in this damned awful heat. Gerard Ravenshead was fanning Max with a large leaf, trying to keep the flies from settling on his wound. A neck-cloth was wound around a deep cut at the side of Gerard's head.
'I thought we were done for,' Harry said. He was speaking his thoughts aloud, saying what they all felt. 'What a mess!'
'You can't blame yourself for it, Harry,' Gerard said and looked at him. 'They knew we were coming. Someone must have warned them.'
'Ten killed, and the three of us only got out by the skin of our teeth.' Harry stood up and walked over to take a look at Max. 'Somehow they must have got wind that we planned a surprise raid to take prisoners…'
'One of the servants,' Gerard replied and shrugged. 'In this damned war I'm never sure whether we are fighting the French with the Spanish or the Spanish and the French.'
'I wouldn't trust their generals as far as I could throw them,' Harry growled. He looked at the blood trickling down Gerard's face. They had wrapped a kerchief round his head, but it wasn't doing much good. 'Your wound is still bleeding. Do you want me to take another look at it?'
'You saved my life once today,' Gerard said and grinned at him. 'You don't have to nursemaid me, Harry. I'll manage. We have to get Max back to the village, and by the looks of him that means carrying him between us.'
Harry pulled a wry face. 'The way you've been behaving out here I've sometimes felt as if you meant to throw your life away…' Gerard had gained a reputation as something of a dare devil.
'There were moments when I didn't much care if I died,' Gerard admitted. He took a swipe at a fly buzzing about his face. 'But when you're facing death things come into perspective. I intend to live and return home and one day…'
Gerard left the sentence unfinished. Harry nodded. He knew something had been eating at his friend. He suspected it was to do with a young woman Gerard had been courting – and the tiny scar at his temple that he'd noticed when they first met in Spain after a year of not seeing one another. Gerard often rubbed at it when he was thoughtful, and the look in his eyes told Harry he was remembering something that made him angry.
'I know what you mean,' Harry said. 'Soldiering is blood, sweat and tears – and that is the easy part.' It was listening to the screams of dying men and knowing you couldn't save them that hurt the worst. 'Come on then. Help me get Max on my back and I'll carry him.'
'I can walk…' Max mumbled. 'Just give me a hand up…'
'Don't be a damned fool,' Harry replied. 'You'll be carried as far as we can make it. When we get near the village Gerard will fetch help.'
'I could walk with help.' Max's face set stubbornly as he attempted to rise. 'Damn you, Harry. I'm not a baby…'
'But I'm the superior officer here so you will do as you're told,' Harry muttered. He grinned at Gerard. 'There's one thing, we're bound for life by this day's experience. It's something none of us will forget – and if any one of us can help the other in future we will…'
Max grunted as they hauled him to his feet, and Harry took him over his shoulder. Gerard nodded, his eyes hard but appreciative of his friend's stubborn determination to take on the burden. He wasn't sure he could have done it himself, though he would have tried.
'Comrades in war and peace,' he said. 'Let's get back. My head is fit to burst and Max needs attention…'
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The tutor is De Sandie Byrne, who was formerly Fellow and Tutor in English at Balliol College, Oxford.
I had a quick look on Amazon and they carry some of Dr Byrne's books including Jane Austen - Mansfield Park (Readers' Guides to Essential Criticism).
"There are no formal entry qualifications for this course," the Oxford website says, "all you need is enthusiasm, commitment, a high degree of motivation and a willingness to engage in discussion with others. "
It looks wonderful. For more information about it, click here
Amanda Grange (with thanks to Austenblog for the information)
Monday, January 19, 2009
I’d gone there to find some information for Christine Merrill, one of the US authors of the Regency continuity I’m working on - she needed to know what species of tree her hero and heroine might accurately be kissing behind.
The answer was, not very much in 1815, not if they wanted to preserve their privacy. According to my guidebook “A few years since, Hyde Park was a little deficient in wood, many of the old trees having decayed; but recently some judicious plantations have been made, that will greatly enliven its general appearance.” And, looking at the trees now, it is obvious that 200 years ago they would have been very young indeed. Christine’s hero and heroine were going to have to find somewhere else for their embraces.
The parks and gardens looked fabulous in the frosty mist and all that was missing, I thought, were skaters on the ice.
According to The Picture of London “In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people. One winter there were counted more than 6,000 people at one time on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace; and here and there was a group of six, eight or more, fashionable young men, skating, and describing very difficult figures, in the manner of a country dance, with particular neatness and facility of execution. In general, however, the English do not excel in this very exhilarating and wholesome exercise.
From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, his majesty gave the Humane Society a spot of ground on its banks, on which they have erected a most convenient receiving house for the recovery of persons apparently drowned; it cost upwards of £500 and is worthy the inspection of the curious. The society, during the time of frost, keep men on the river to guard the unwary from danger, and to relieve those who may require their aid.”
There’s no sign of the “convenient receiving house” now, but I have suggested it to Christine as a possible retreat for her amorous couple. Whether she’ll use it I don’t know - perhaps the risk of being interrupted by the life savers would be too much for even the boldest of heroes.
The photograph is of the Long Water (Hyde Park bank) from Prince Albert’s Italian Gardens and the print from the French series Modes et Manières published in the early 19thc.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I was about to leave home for the post office when my 94-year-old father rang, could I pick up some dog food, and would I please type out a speech he plans to give at the monthly Dunkirk Veteran's lunch that day. (How could I refuse?) Picked up dog food, posted parcel, then on way back got waylaid by old lady who was feeling shaky and needed a steadying arm to get her back home (next to the papershop and on my way) Took dog food to Dad, collected speech and promised to have it back within the hour. Arrived home, made quick cup of tea, typed and printed out speech in large bold easy-to-read font and took it round to delighted father. Walked briskly home, trying to convince myself that this additional fresh air and exercise were excellent stress-busters. (Not convinced) While I was trying to amalgamate the separate files of DD prologue, chapters and outline into one electronic Word document, there was a loud thud. A bird had hit the window. I've already put celtic stickers on the glass to warn them. What more do they want, signs? When I looked out I saw one of my bullfinches huddled, panting and looking decidedly dazed. Bullfinches are usually very shy and quite rare. We have three pairs who are regular visitors to our bird table, and I've known them all since they were eggs. Left him to recover and went back to computer. Writer friend had given me detailed instructions on how to amalgamate separate files which I followed. But each time I inserted a page break then tried to insert the next file, the old header remained. If I changed it manually for the following doc, it also changed the one behind. My computer nearly ended up in the field next door! In the end, with all the files saved in order and as a single document, I went back to the beginning and inserted an entirely new header just giving the books initials, my initials and sequential page numbers. That worked, so I hit send. By now it was after 4pm, I'd lost my planned afternoon on the current wip and I had the beginnings of a headache. I checked the bullfinch who was taking a few tottering steps and trying to look as if he'd just landed for a rest, and made another cup of tea. It was too late to start my planned work on the current book. So I tackled a mountain of ironing, made an apple crumble and a tray of apricot, ginger and walnut flapjacks, and felt virtuous if still frustrated. Still, as Scarlett said "Tomorrow is another day". It can only be better.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
His Cavalry Lady
Dominic Aikenhead, Duke of Calder, meets Alex, the Cavalry Lady — except that she appears to be a man, Captain Alexei Alexandrov! She has lost her heart to Dominic, but how can she ever show him what she feels? For years, she has served as a man, and no one has penetrated her disguise. Does she dare to risk everything by showing herself to Dominic as the passionate woman she really is? And how will he react if she does?
His Reluctant Mistress
Lord Leo Aikenhead, the second brother, is a renowned rake at whose feet many women have fallen. Not one of them has touched his heart. Then he meets the beautiful singer Sophie Pietre, who has absolutely no intention of succumbing to Leo, however much he pursues her. But in the midst of the dangers and intrigues of the Congress of Vienna, Sophie’s very life may depend on Leo’s aid. Will she be able to resist him then?
His Forbidden Liaison
Lord Jack Aikenhead, the youngest and wildest of the brothers, is an incorrigible gambler and playboy. He finally begins to discover what responsibility means when his spying expedition to France is caught up in Napoleon’s return from Elba. He knows he cannot fulfil his mission without the help of Marguerite Grolier, a spirited silk-weaver from Lyons, but she is forbidden to him. He must treat her as a sister, or forfeit his honour. Marguerite, however, is not bound in any way. And she has absolutely no intention of treating Jack like a brother!
I can't really decide if I have a favourite. What do you think? I admit there's a certain allure about those sexy silk stockings...
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
In this era, the 1750's, smugglers were very different from the smugglers of myth and legend, the "freebooters," the "gentlemen" who gave tea to the poor and supported the liberties of the downtrodden masses. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the first historical series I ever read was the Russell Thorndike "Dr. Syn" stories, where a pirate turned smuggler becomes the Vicar of Dymchurch, and protects the people while keeping a romantic secret to himself. So it was a bit of a blow to learn that smugglers weren't like that at all.
Think Chicago in the 12920's. The big smuggling gangs were the curse of the coasts of Britain. They bullied, they ran districts like petty lords and they coerced the populace into taking part in the activities, or at the very least, harbouring smuggled goods. Crime lords, something like the characters in "The Long Good Friday," or in real life, the Krays and the Richardsons.
The Hawkhurst Gang were the most famous, for all the wrong reasons. They ran the south coast around Romney Marsh, where Thorndike set his stories, and they controlled all the contraband that came through the district. The gang was eventually brought down by its extreme brutality, when the local populace turned on them and joined with the militia to round them up.
Against them were the Customs and Excise Departments, separate entities in this period. Woefully understaffed and underpaid, these people often took bribes to look the other way, or even collude in the importation of illegal goods.
During the Napoleonic Wars there were fears that the smugglers were importing more than tea, lace and tobacco. They could also be bringing in spies and hostiles. That, together with the more important financial considerations, led to the diminishing of smuggling.
The real kicker was the excise. The Georgian government insisted on putting high taxes on some goods, so much that at one point it was assessed that two thirds of the tea drunk in Britain was smuggled goods. Despite constant pressure to reduce duty, with the reasoning that what they lost on high percentages, they'd gain in quantity, the government held out until William Pitt finally began the reductions that were the real death knell of the highly profitable smuggling gangs, slashing the duty on tea in 1784. From then on, increased effort in catching the smugglers and dwindling profits saw the end of the organised gangs.
And so I had to plunge Richard and Rose in the middle of that, didn't I? They face smugglers, betrayal and capture, so although they're now a couple heading for their wedding day, it becomes increasingly doubtful that they'll actually reach it.
Lynne Connolly www.lynneconnolly.com
Monday, January 12, 2009
Hello, and thank you for inviting me to the blog!
Miss Charlotte Cartwright is incredibly wealthy and incredibly stubborn. She cannot forget that Roland Temple rejected her six years before, calling her a hoyden, even if he has since become the new Earl of Amerleigh and is highly eligible; let the other young hopefuls battle it out for him, for she will not. Her fight with him is over a strip of land and a lead mine to which both lay claim and until that is resolved, they cannot move forward. And Roland needs that mine. He has come back from the wars, older and wiser, to find his father dead and the estate in a parlous condition. It is going to take all his energy and resources to set it to rights and the fiery Miss Cartwright can only be a distraction…
The inspiration for this book came from a visit I made to the Snailbeach Mine in Shropshire, now a museum, although I have used author's license to site it further north than it really is. There was a time when the lead mines of Shropshire were the most productive in Europe. Mining in the area goes back to Roman times, though it would have been extracted from shallow workings. When ores close to the surface became exhausted, greater depths were explored and some of them became very deep indeed.
Mining was a hard and hazardous occupation. By the light of a candle attached to their helmets, the miners worked in gangs, usually two experienced miners, a labourer for heavy shovelling and a boy whose job it was to take the ore to the bottom of the shaft. One miner held the drill while the other hammered it into the rock and the ensuing holes were packed with explosive. Once the explosive had loosened the rock, the ore was lifted to the surface via shafts and taken in wagons to the crusher house where it was prepared for smelting by women and children working in terrible conditions. Understandably, there were frequent accidents: from flooding, from rock falls and cables breaking on the cables that lowered the men to the rock face. In spite of steam powered pumping engines to deal with the water and compressors to help with the drilling, by 1885 the competition from cheap imported ore sent the prices tumbling and many of the mines were forced to close.
This might seem a strange background for a romantic novel, but romance can be found everywhere and in my hero and heroine I have two stubborn characters who come to realise that pride comes before a fall, and fall they do, in love with each other! You can see a review of this book at http://cataromance.com/?p=1407
Thank you, Mary, the book sounds fascinating!
Sunday, January 11, 2009
From his library window Alex watched his mother and Miss Tilling walking arm-in-arm at a snail´s pace through the orchard. He wondered with amusement who was supposed to be supporting whom. He was relieved to see Miss Tilling out of her chamber at last. It was difficult to tell from this distance, but she appeared to have a spring restored to her step and, if he was not much mistaken, the sound drifting throught the open window was that of her muted laughter.
Who was she? Where had she come from? Alex told himself repeatedly that it was of no consequence and attempted to redirect his attention to the papers he was studying. But his steward´s recommendation for a series of drainage ditches in the lower acres was as dull as the ditchwater they would be intended to channel and stood little chance of diverting his thoughts from the enigmatic Miss Tilling.
On a whim he quit the room and slipped up the stairs to the chamber she was occupying, unsure what he hoped to achieve by intruding. He searched her belongings, careful to put everything back exactly as he had found it, but found few clues as to her identity. A few gowns of a quality too superior for a mere governess, even if they were no longer the last word in fashion.
The only item of interest was awriting case, the initials EST entwined in the leather. Damn, it was locked. It would have been the work of a moment to force the lock. But, even though any letters that might shed light on her background were likely to be inside, he would not invade her privacy to that extent. He left the room, with more questions than answers jostling for position in his brain, determined to discover, at the very least, what the initial E stood for.
Returning to his study, he sighed as he directed his attention towards his steward´s long-winded report again. He disciplined himself to concentrate but had not got beyond the first page before voices in the hall distracted him. He shuddered when he recognized that of the vicar´s wife, who had presumably come to consult his mother about parish affairs. He trusted his mother would not be insensitive enough to expose the convalescing Miss Tilling to the woman´s overbearing company. His mother did not disappoint in that respect since, when Phelps approached her a short time later, Alex observed the two of them return towards the house, leaving Miss Tilling in solitude in the courtyard.
He did not pause to examine the reasons for his urgent desire to bear their guest company. Instead he left his study by a side door to avoid any possibility of encourntering the formidable Mrs. Gibson, who would be more than capable of delaying him for a considerable time.
"Miss Tilling." He approached her position from the southern path. "I trust I do not intrude?"
She started violently. "Oh, I did not see you there."
"I apologize if I appeared to creep up on you. It was not my intention. May I?" He indicated the seat his mother had just vacated.
"May I enquire after your health?"
"Thank you. How could I be anything other than greatly recovered, given the exceptional care Lady Crawley is taking of me?"
"Yes, indeed." He chuckled as he examined her face closely. There was a rosy hue to her delicate features. It had not been present on the only previous occasion he had been in her company, but the haunted expression was still firmly entrenched in her eyes. She bore his scrutiny with apparent equanimity, staring directly ahead, unsmiling. The air of despondency and self-containment he had previously sensed about her lingered still. This girl had learned to keep her aspirations and disappointments to herself, if he was not much mistaken. The realization unsettled him. She ought to be revelling in being young and so uniquely beautiful, not pretending to be someone she was not in order to escape some nameless torment. "I observe that you now have colour in your cheeks and rejoice in seeing you on the road to recovery."
"Thank you." She inclined her head in his direction. "Fresh air and exercise were my only requirements."
"Then I must beg a favour, Miss Tilling."
"What favour, sir?"
"That you do not partake too freely of those remedies." She raied a brow. "I have not seen my mother so happily occupied for many a long month and would not have her newfound purpose taken away from her too soon." He met her gaze and held it. "You comprehend my meaning, I feel assured. Dare I hope you will oblige me?"
"You would have me play the part of the invalid?"
"Do not look so outraged, Miss Tilling. I merely wish you to exaggerate your symptoms for the sake of my mother´s well-being."
"Is it such a bad thing to concern oneself with the feelings of an aging parent?"
"Not at all."
But she still looked discomposed and Alex wanted to kick himself for handling the situation so ineptly. So convinced was he that Miss Tilling has conspired with Susanna in her efforts to procure a companion for his mother that it had not occurred to him that her story might actually be true. He considered the possibility now. Perhaps she really was a displaced governess recuperating from the fever.
"Forgive me, Miss Tilling, I fear I have offended you."
"No, Lord Crawley, you have done nothing more than demonstrate concern for your mother´s well-being, which is laudable." She turned to face him for the first time since the commencement of their conversation. His reaction to the full force of her glowing eyes resting on him was embarrassingly visible and entirely inappropriate. He shifted his position in an attempt to conceal the evidence. "I can assure you, your mother´s peace of mind is almost as important to me as it is to you. She has shown me a kindness out of all proportion to my due and there is little I would not do to repay her."
"Then we are agreed." He was aware that his voice sounded strained as he struggled to regain control of himself. "I believe there are worse places in this world to recover from illness than Crawley Hall."
"Indeed, but if I am not to be permitted to roam the grounds then I must find some other activitity. I do not care to be idle."
"A consequence of your occupation, no doubt."
"Indeeed. But, Lord Crawley, there is something I must ask of you."
"Anything, Miss Tilling."
"Well, the thing is ..." Her words trailed off and she looked away from him in evident embarrassment.
"Miss Tilling?" The colour had left her face again and he felt genuine concern for her welfare. "Whatever it is, you may be assured of my discretion."
"No." She shook her head. "It is of no consequence."
In spite of his attempts to persuade her to give voice to whatever it was that concerned her, she refused to be swayed. Being a gentleman, Alex could not insist and politely changed the subject. "Tell me,what does a governess do when she is not supervising her charges?"
She offered him a veiled look. "She has little time for leisure since she shoulders a great deal of responsibility. But when she does find herself with time on her hands she might fill it by embroidering -"
"Did you make this yourself?" He fingered the colourful shawl which was draped over her shoulders on the outside of her pelisse.
"Yes, when I was myself at school."
"I know little about such matters," he said softly, "but even I can see that it is exquisite."
"But I interrupted you. What other pursuits do you enjoy? If there is something that Crawley Hall is not in a position to furnish, that situation could readily be rectified."
"You are too good." Again she almost smiled and Alex was now determined to entice her to do so, not stopping to consider why it should matter to him so much. "I must own that I also enjoy playing the harp."
"Then nothing could be simpler. My mother will be delighted when she learns of your partiality for that particular instrument, if you have not already confided in her. She herself favoured it when she was younger but has not played now for many years. Her fingers, you understand, do not permit it. But we have an excellent harp in our drawing room and I beg you to feel free to utilize it at your leisure."
"You are welcome." He smiled at her but she did not reciprocate, rather looking away from him, her attention apparently completely taken up by a vine creeping across the western corner of the courtyard. "Perhaps if you are not too fatigued you will play for us after dinner this evening? I assume you will be coming down this evening."
"If you do not consider that it would be too much for me in my delicate condition." Her response was formal and entirely correct. Even so, Alex thought he caught a glimpse of mischievousness flash through her remarkable eyes and was almost sure she was teasing him.
"I believe it a risk worth taking."
"Very well, but I think it only fair to warn you that I am shockingly out of practice. I have not played these several months."
"Because of your illness?"
"Yes, because of that." She shivered and pulled her shawl more closely about her.
"Come, Miss Tilling, I am afraid you are cold." He stood and assisted her to her feet. "And your timing is impeccable. I believe that is Mrs. Gibson´s gig I can hear making its way down the drive. I would recognize the sound of her ancient cob´s hooves anywhere." He smiled. "It will be quite safe to return to the house now."
She accepted his hand and placed her arm on his sleeve. They made their way back to the house in silence but Alex was accutely aware of her presence. He was struck by the elgance of her posture, the economically graceful manner in which she moved and the carefully guarded expression he could not begin to interpret. The touch of her fingers on his sleeve was gossamer light at first but as they progressed, she leaned a little more of her weight upon him. He sensed she was tiring and, concerned that she was still so weak, he was ridiculously glad to offer her this small service.
As they slowly traversed the lawn he wondered how she would react if he gave way to the capricious whim that was bubbling away inside him. Whatever would she say if he swept her into his arms and carried her back to the house?
Friday, January 09, 2009
Yesterday I braved the fog and icy roads and headed for London for a book launch in Brick Lane. The directions we'd been given to the bookshop were straightforward, but she said it was only a 10 minute walk, it took us almost half an hour - I asked several other guests and regardless of age, size or stamina about half said it took 10 minutes the rest had taken as long as we had.
The route we took was through a part of London I didn't know, one shop looked as though it had been transported forward from the Regency, there was a narrow lane of 19th-century houses, all with the basement window from which the servants would have peered out into the peasouper. I was told we had travelled Jack the Ripper territory.
It was easy to imagine the streets cobbled, the pathways teeming with folk going about their daily business the noises, the smells, the air rich with shouts of the street vendors.
We passed a pub which appeared to have a 10 foot square table attached to an open serving hatch, we could see it was spread with food, it was hard to see in the dark exactly what was on the table. We decided we would come back in the summer, during daylight, and explore the area properly.
It was obvious why some of us took three times longer to reach our destination than others, we were the historical writers, they the more normal members of society.
The Ghosts at Neddingfield Hall - out now- available from www.halebooks.com and Amazon UK, also all good bookshops. Don't forgetyou can order it at your library as well.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
It seems very appropriate that with the cold and frosty weather we are having here in the UK, my January book, Miss Verey's Proposal, should feature the legend of The Eve of St Agnes. As I am writing this it is snowing outside and everything looks extremely pretty!
Miss Verey’s Proposal was originally published in 2000 and is a traditional Regency and something of a romp! I love it because it is fun and light-hearted as well as very sweet and romantic. Harlequin Mills & Boon have reissued it as part of the Regency Lords and Ladies Collection and it is in the shops this month as well as available from Amazon and the Mills & Boon website.
The inspiration for the book came from the poem “The Eve of St Agnes” by John Keats. St Agnes’s Eve is 20th January and the legend states that if a young girl goes to bed without her supper on that night she will dream of her future husband. In the story Jane Verey and her friend Sophia both decide to try this out but Jane goes one step better than mere dreams – she actually sees him!
I love John Keats’s poetry and the Eve of St Agnes in particular is very evocative. Anyone enduring the current cold spell in the UK or elsewhere in the world will be able to identify with this:
"St. Agnes' Eve--Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven…"
The poem makes a wonderful contrast of the cold outside with all the bright, warm celebrations taking place in the medieval hall of the manor house. It’s a hugely romantic poem and conjured up for me a wonderful picture of the two girls creeping off to bed hoping to have romantic dreams of their future husbands!
I am offering a copy of the book as my website prize this month. A happy (and warm!) New Year, everyone!
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
I wanted to post a picture of the cover, which is very attractive, but unfortunately my computer was hit by a virus recently and now I can't scan anything. But if I can manage to get a cover pic somehow I'll post it for you. I'm also trying to find out whether the book will be available online and if so I'll post details.
What an exciting start to the new year! I hope that your new year has started as well and that it will be a fantastic time for all our readers.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
This theatre review was in “The New British Ladies Magazine” for October 1819.
The plates are from “The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to their Use and Amusement” for the same year and show that an interest in the Gothic was not confined to the play’s heroine. Top: “The Captive Nun”, Middle: “Mazeppa, Bottom: “The Bride of Lammermoor”.
The Cure for Romance
This successful operetta is founded (as we understand) on a novel of no great celebrity, and is very similar in its plot to Catherine and Petruchio, except that the object is to shew the means of curing a romantic, and not of taming a shrewish spirit.
Caroline, the daughter of Drake, a simple London poulterer, has had her mind filled so completely with the visions of the circulating library, that she disdains to think of any man for a husband, whose character does not correspond with her notions of a hero. Charles Clover is smitten with the fair enthusiast, but perceiving that he should have no chance if he wooed as a common lover, he assumes the fascinating name of Orlando, writes verses and billets-doux to his mistress, and having ultimately prevailed on her to elope with him, takes her to an old ruined castle, which he pretends is his residence, and appears to her in the garb and under the character of a captain of banditti, with the odious name of Humphrey Shufflebottom.
Although Caroline had of course read a great deal about gentlemen of this profession, she finds that, however delightful in imagination, they are in fact no very agreeable associates. This experience, the absence of all the attentions and accommodations to which she has been accustomed, and other considerations of an appalling and disgusting nature, make a powerful impression on her and the result is, that her delusion being removed, she is appraised of the stratagem which has been practised on her, and no longer hesitates to accept the proffered hand of her lover.
The idea is good; and as far as the author has gone, is tolerably well executed: but we think much more might have been made of it. The denouement is hurried on just as the interest becomes powerfully excited. All the performers exerted themselves, especially Mrs Chatterley, (who both looked and played delightfully,) Wrench, the hero, and Harley, the hero’s servant, who introduced a song in ridicule of those pests of society, as they are at present constituted - circulating libraries, in which there were several neat points. It was loudly encored; as was a very sweet and harmonious glee that was sung in the course of the performance.
The mind boggles as to what the “other considerations of an appalling and disgusting nature” might have been. An absence of indoor plumbing, perhaps? Authors should note - Humphrey Shufflebottom is not a good name for your hero.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
During the Georgian and Regency period, Christmas was the traditional time for entertaining on a lavish scale. Lord Fermanagh, who did not consider himself a wealthy man, entertained "as many as 400 people a day and rarely less than 100." These would include the performers such as morrismen and wassailers, workers from the estate as well as house guests and relatives. The menu might include a fricassee of chicken or chicken in brandy-wine, duck in port, jugged pigeons – apparently a "pupton of pigeons" (a pigeon pie in a forcemeat crust) had gone out of fashion by the nineteenth century but it sounds intriguing! Foreigners were often impressed (or appalled) by the gargantuan appetites of the English. In 1795, Parson Woodforde gave a dinner for 21 guests (a snug little dinner by the standards of the times) and served "three joints of beef, a leg of mutton, fish, rabbits, plenty of puddings, both small and strong beer, punch (made from six bottles of rum), wine and five bottles of port." At this time savoury and sweet dishes would be served together – the first course consisting of soups, boiled meats, fish, small roasts, pies and vegetables with a few sweet puddings. The second course would be roast meats, fricassees and ragouts with fruit pies and custards.
Favourites at the time were flummery (an orange and cream jelly) served in a magnificent mould, chocolate pye decorated with gold-leaf almonds and crystallised rose petals and that popular symbol of wealth the pineapple. This could be soaked in brandy or chopped and piled back into the shell. The leaves of the pineapple could be gilded really special occasions.
At the dessert, the cloth, napkins and dishes would be removed and the mahogany table would gleam in the candlelight until it was covered by decanters of wine, comfits in porcelain or crystal dishes and fruit in elegant baskets. Towards the end of the dessert the ladies would withdraw and leave the gentlemen to their drinking.
Now all this makes me feel really good, because I realise that my own seasonal indulgence is not really so bad after all!
Friday, January 02, 2009
No one is absolutely sure when the first Cornish range was invented, but we do know that a company in Camborne had begun making them by 1840. Soon demand began to outstrip supply and before long local blacksmiths in nearly every village had began to make them. Soon the range was the "must-have" in every Cornish home. Though my mother soon replaced ours with an electric cooker, the lady in the house opposite was still using hers in her 80s, and every week she would black-lead it and polish the brass until it gleamed.
Before the advent of the range most Cornish cottages and many of the big houses did their cooking over an open fire in a huge hearth. Kettles and pots hung from hooks over iron bars set in the chimney. Some fireplaces had a cloam oven set in the side. This would be filled with burning coals from the fire, then when it was sufficiently hot, the coals would be removed, the food placed inside and left to cook.
Those without a cloam oven used a circular plate of iron that stood on a three-legged iron stand called a brandis, placed over flattened coals or wood. The iron was heated, the pasties or cakes to be baked were then placed on it, and a domed cover put over the top. An hour or so later the cover would be removed, the food was ready, and as clean as if it had been cooked in a modern oven.
This range was the forerunner of all the others. It had an adjustable plate or pan rack, dampers to control the heat, an easily removable ash-tray (the ashes would be emptied into a metal bucket and kept for tipping down the privvy) and removable iron rings of varying sizes in the "slab" above the fire that allowed a faster boil or slower simmer. In fact it was this large flat iron "slab" that gave the stove its colloquial name.
Though the book I'm currently working on, and in which one of these "new-fangled" ranges appears is set in 1840, the picture is of a new range. Identical in every respect to the original they are making a come-back and selling as fast as specialist manufacturers can make them. Once more the Cornish range is making the kitchen the warm heart of home.
Wishing you all a very happy 2009.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
The joys of Christmas and goodwill are still warming us. The challenges and blessings of a New Year lay ahead. Let's all stay positive and not be dragged down by the gloom the media would thrust upon on. What better way to be uplifted than by losing ourself in a good read. Many of our authors have new novels out in the next few weeks which will give us hours of pleasure so indulge yourselves. Recommend a favourite book to a friend to brighten their lives.